The SportingJournal

Free Agency – the beginning of the end

The introduction of the AFL’s new free agency system has signalled that we are taking one more step towards desecrating the game we know and love.

Popularised in the United States with the NFL and NBA to name a few, the free agency system that we have adopted has the ability to corrupt players and bankrupt clubs.

Free agency is intended to be used as a mechanism for players to change clubs without bothering with negotiating a trade or going through the draft.

Players eligible for free agency fall into two categories – restricted and unrestricted. They must have spent at least eight full years at their club to qualify.

If a player is within the top 25% most well-paid players at their club, then the footballer is classified as a restricted free agent. A restricted free agent can field offers from other clubs, but their current team has right of first refusal, and has three days to match the deal offered by any opposition teams.

If a player is outside the top 25% most well-paid players at their club, or has spent at least ten full years at their club, then they are unrestricted free agents. Unrestricted free agents can automatically move to the club of their choice with nothing that their current club can do about it.

Only a few days into the free agency frenzy, we’ve already seen big moves. St Kilda didn’t match the deal that Essendon offered to star defender Brendon Goddard, meaning that BJ is now a Bomber. Crow Chris Knights has made a move to Richmond, while West Coast forward Quinten Lynch has signed with the Magpies.

In other rumours, West Australian Sharrod Wellingham seems poised to return to his home state, while Kurt Tippett has walked out on the Crows, although his new home is yet to be confirmed. Demon defender Jared Rivers has had preliminary talks at Geelong, and Port Adelaide seems set to lose Troy Chaplin and Danyle Pearce.

Brent Moloney has also walked out on Melbourne, and will try his luck elsewhere.

Noticing a pattern?

The whole problem with free agency is that it allows players control that they’ve never had before. And of course they should decide where they want to play their footy, but it is unfair for their clubs to, in some cases, move on and accept it without negotiating trades for their losses.

Melbourne has already said its goodbyes to Brent Moloney, and seems set to lose Jared Rivers as well. The players are trying to jump ship while they still can.

And it’s the same story over at Port Adelaide. Troy Chaplin and Danyle Pearce are on their way out, with Steven Salopek likely to join them.

These struggling clubs, having to brace themselves for players walking out on them, in some cases won’t even get players or picks in return.

Many big faces in AFL circles have opposed the free agency system, including former Swans coach Paul Roos, who declared the introduction of free agency to the AFL, “A sad day for football.”

In an interview with Fox Sports, Roos said that “I think we’re seeing what we suspected”…“Better clubs getting better and lesser clubs getting attacked.”

“How are the lesser clubs going to replace the good players?”

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire also concurs with Roos’ point of view.

“Port Adelaide is the smallest club at the moment and they’re running out of there like you wouldn’t believe,” McGuire stated, alluding to the impending losses of Pearce, Salopek and Chaplin

“My worry is, and always has been, that eventually they’ll go to the big clubs and the smaller clubs will lose them.”

For the next month, our game is going to be overrun by rumours flying left, right and centre. And while richer, more successful clubs watch in glee as players stick their hands up and nominate them as their preferred destination, the strugglers can do nothing but try to negotiate trades here and there as their players bolt.

It begs the question…what was ever wrong with the system we had in place last year? If a player really wanted to leave, they would consult with their club, and negotiate a trade that would see all the parties happy. The new club gets some fresh talent, the player gets a change in scenery and the old club gets compensation in the way of players or draft picks.

But now, they just want to walk, and leave their old clubs with nothing to show for their efforts.

If free agency trends continue as they seem likely to this year, in a few years, who knows where we’ll be? Will we even still have eighteen clubs?

Free agency can wreck this game. It is the beginning of the end.

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